Special Agent Nickolas Savage Discusses ‘Sextortion’
Special Agent Nickolas Savage Discusses ‘Sextortion’
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Nickolas B. Savage, assistant section chief of the Strategic Outreach and Initiative Section in the FBI’s Cyber Division, managed the Innocent Images National Initiative (IINI) Task Force as the case agent in Florida investigating Patrick Connolly and Ivory Dickerson. Here he talks about the case and the threats kids face online:
Sextortion is what is commonly referred to as individuals who are being victimized—they’re being extorted; it’s what we commonly refer to as extortion, only the end-gain for the individuals who are doing the extortion is something that’s related to some sexual activity. Whether it be pictures or videos or, but it is generally something that is associated with sex. So I’m blackmailing you for something sexual in nature.
Kids tend to be less cautious and more trusting of individuals online. They associate many people online as people much like themselves, of around the same age. So they’re not very fearful of potential dangers.
A lot of times you will have individuals who will befriend children. They think they are chatting with other children. And oftentimes children are tricked into sending pictures of themselves to somebody else that they believe are maybe similar in age. And once these individuals have these pictures, well they want more pictures. That is what they’re using in furtherance of their criminal activity. Once they have these pictures, they are then able to say to the victim or to the child, “I want more,” or, “I want you to do x, y, and z. And if you don’t I’m going to take these photographs and I’m going to send them to other people in the school. I’ll send them to your family.”
And oftentimes, the children are embarrassed, especially thinking as though they have somehow contributed to their victimization. So fearing that they will get in trouble if they report it, they will continue with the victimization and send the individuals what they’re requesting. What often happens is, the victimization never stops.
We saw situations where the individuals responsible for this criminal activity actually created websites and actually sent hyperlinks to friends and to family members, again showing a certain level of—a sense of dominance over the victim to say, “This is what I have over you, and if you don’t continue to do what I say, these are the things that I can do.”
They are masters at exploiting the vulnerable.
They would trick people into opening an attachment. One of the ways they would often do it was they would send a picture of a girl. And she was wearing a bra and panties. And she had her hair over her face and you couldn’t see what she looked like. And they would say something along the lines of, “I saw this picture of you on a website. If it’s not you, just disregard. Well, what a lot of these victims didn’t realize was there was a Trojan program embedded within the picture. All kids looked at the picture. Kids are just curious by nature. And not even realizing that something could be embedded in that picture they looked at it.
Once Connolly and Dickerson had access to their computer, what they would do is a couple things. A lot of times they would just sit back and watch. And they had the ability to turn on your webcam. So they would see these victims dressing and undressing and just doing various things. And they would tape that. And sometimes they would catch kids doing things or catch kids changing. Sometimes they would show these videos or pictures in furtherance of the exploitation.
Also, once they had this they had access to buddy lists, so they were able to say, “If you don’t take pictures of yourself, or you don’t take these movies of yourself, I see you have an e-mail address for your grandmother. Well, I’ll put this little show together for your grandmother, and I’m sure she wouldn’t, you know, be very proud of the way you act.”
And a lot of these kids would do this.
Today you have so many more malware—there’s so much more malware out there, and so many more programs that allow people access to your computer, you can’t be too cautious any more.
One of the things that, especially when talking to parents, is you need to have this open dialogue with your children. You have to talk to your kids about these things. You can’t be too careful. You really can’t trust…you’ve got to be careful with whom you’re communicating.
Always be cautious: number-one.
Number-two is: kids need to be able to talk to parents and parents need to be able to talk to kids. If you don’t know who something is from, don’t open it. Be cautious of certain attachments.
And, in the end, if something were to happen, if you were victimized, tell somebody, tell your parents. Tell an adult. Tell a teacher. Even if you’re an adult and you’re victimized, don’t be afraid to call law enforcement.
Dickerson had—he had like 230 gigabytes worth of material. And at the time that was huge. Connolly had close to a terabyte worth of material
And the thing was a lot of these kids are just some folder somewhere. It was a folder on a computer. No name. No screen name. Just pictures and videos in a folder. And part of what I feel my responsibility is is to talk to anybody who’s willing to listen because I know where’s so many more victims out here that are wondering, “I wonder what ever happened to those guys?” or, “Do I still need to be afraid?”
If you know somebody or are in a similar situation, or if you’re a parent, talk to your children about this.